Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 29 December 2017

In remembrance of a true patriot - George Muras Lomoro


By Pamela Lomoro

Amid South Sudan’s ongoing abyss of violence and ethical decay, in the bleak solitude of the night, I can hear my father’s whispers reassuring, inspiring hope. He was George Muras Lomoro, an ardent friend of liberty and a staunch Catholic, but one grounded in the conception that faith ought to go hand in hand with priori principles of reason & hard work. Indeed, one of his favourite bible verses was ‘faith, if not accompanied by works is dead’ (James 2:14- ). This, I hear him saying often in my head. A powerful motivator.

My father was born around 1934 in Torit, formerly eastern Equatoria region. His mother was Iliha Osero of Burung, and father, Loroto Lomoro of Oguruny. He belonged to the Otuho royal kingdom of Hujang, a great grandson of king Eken, and a grandson of king (L) Omoro who successfully fought off the Ottoman army’s attempted invasion of the Otuho Kingdom in 1885.

Despite his royal lineage, his mother’s unofficial marriage to the king disqualified him and his siblings from enjoying the trimmings of traditional royal life. Without the advantages of wealth and early opportunities, he won his education, raised himself to usefulness and distinction, and achieved greatness through a rugged hand-to-hand struggle with life.

His was a rugged beginning no different to many other of his age - a rugged little boy walking a great distance, barefoot to a lowly mud-house Catholic primary school. A cheeky boy, after a morning’s hard toil at Okaru intermediate school farm, pouring over volumes of books; a keen footballer and a rebellious teen activist at the prestigious Rumbek secondary boarding school organising demonstrations against Khartoum’s oppressive regime for which he would be kicked out but later reinstated only to sit for final exams; an audacious youth daring to win a scholarship to an elite academic institution in Switzerland; then in 1960 a young man armed with a first class economics degree from Fribourg University; Such are the pictures presented by many a proud friend of my beloved father, the first person of Otuho heritage to enter University.

Upon his graduation from Fribourg University in 1960 my father went for postgraduate studies in Uganda. There, he joined the growing Southern opposition movement against Khartoum which was taking shape in the form of the Sudan African National Union (SANU) exiled political party. He earned a postgraduate distinction in development economics from Makerere University in 1964. The University immediately offered him an academic post. It was the perfect job as it allowed him to indulge his intellectual curiosity while affording him the money and flexibility to engage in political advocacy.

During this time my father married my mother, a Ugandan nursing graduate of Birmingham University and at the time Uganda’s head of military nursing services. Together they set up home in Kampala which would become a welcoming hub to many extended family members, friends and political activists fleeing Sudan’s civil unrest during the 1960’s. It was here that my father poured his resources and spare time into hosting and supporting Southern liberation leaders such as Fr. Saturnino Ohure, Joseph Oduho, Lawrence Wol Wol, and Joseph Lagu among many. Lagu fondly recalled him as “a man of strong character” and said he was one of “the brains behind the shaping of the Anya-nya liberation movement”. My father spear-headed fundraising activities for the movement under the guise of the ‘Sudanese Christian Association of East Africa’. He is also credited with leading negotiations to unify Southern political factions - a marshaller of parties, whose solemn embodiment of judicious authority towed the line for a unified Southern voice. His negotiating skills lent him to being one of the architects of the regional autonomous government of the South in 1972.

Despite his ardent roles in the liberation movement at that time, my father did not aspire for a political career, sticking instead to building his reputation as a shrewd industrialist in the private sector. This he pursued with distinction while maintaining his voluntary political advocacy activities and using part of his professional earnings to support the liberation cause. He left his job at Makerere University when at 32 years of age he was offered the lucrative post of director at Nakasero Biscuits Ltd in 1966, and soon thereafter as managing director at the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC), one of two largest corporations in Uganda at the time. At UDC he instituted strategies which encouraged significant industrial and economic developments in Uganda. His successes earned him a job offer as a leading economist at the African Development Bank, but he was dissuaded by Uganda’s president Obote from leaving the UDC. In later years, owing to his growing influence in the Ugandan economic arena the dictator Idi Amin saw him as a threat and ordered for his assassination. He escaped with our family to South Sudan in 1975, stripped bare of his hard earned savings & properties.

In Juba, my father championed the setting up of the Southern Regional Development Corporation (RDC) as its chairman. He left in 1984 when he was appointed commissioner for Eastern Equatoria in Joseph Tombura’s Southern government. He went on to hold various political posts including as regional minister for social services, and as member of the national assembly in Khartoum until 1996. Following the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement he was first appointed economic advisor, and later minister of finance and economic planning for Eastern Equatoria in 2007, a position from which he was retired in 2008.

In a patriarchal society he raised his children free from traditional restrictions of gender roles, placing great emphasis on education & self-reliance. He was ever so proud of our accomplishments. At age 8, he enlisted me as his “assistant engineer” on a pet project, assembling a second hand grinding mill machine and turning it into a small family business, a Tahuna. He read from manual instructions on how to fix the machine and would ask me to roll underneath it in obscure places, to tighten screws and bolts and grease parts - my lithe 8 year old body permitting. It was always the most exhilarating of days when that machine worked at all, and when we had a customer with a bucket load of maize or dura to be ground into flour – a rare occurrence. The grinding mill machine was not a profitable business. Instead, it grew into a precious father-daughter pursuit of ‘hobby-ness’.

Among the public characters of South Sudan liberation struggle my father stands peculiar and unique in that he was never greedy, nor a political chameleon. He never actively pursued political positions, not because he lacked ambition but because he valued a different approach to delivering public service & public value. His ambition was circular, not vertical – to construct capable institutions and secure framework through which developments could take place. His once junior colleague at the RDC, Hon. Aggrey Tissa Sabuni recalled him as a consummate technocrat who led his organisation through a system of meritocracy.

My father did not possess the arrogant sense of entitlement so prevalent among many South Sudanese leaders today. He seldom talked about his contribution to South Sudan, instead proffering the virtue of humility. Throughout his life, even as he moved in sophisticated intellectual circles, he was most at home with his people in Torit where he retired. He could often be found jesting in that loud Otuho way, or watching international current affairs programmes at the Torit Hotel. He delighted in teasing old ladies and indulging in traditional dance and song.

My father’s biography condenses in the compass of a single life the great story of true Junub patriots - fighting injustice with undaunted pluck, bearing the integrity, the hope and the faith of the devotee of liberty even under the most difficult of circumstances. Junub patriots are many; they are men as well as women, young and old, educated and uneducated, drawn from every ethnicity of the country. For most, their contribution to our history is perpetually being relegated to the fringes through the politics of division and ethnic domination. But we must not allow this to continue. South Sudanese will do well to remember that the liberation struggle pre-dates the country’s recent history. It pre-dates 1983, 1955, 1947 and 1890. Sadly, it is a continuing struggle, for which all our voices must be represented if we are to arrive at a just and lasting peace.

On a bright and beautiful day of the 28th December 2016 my father’s spirit departed following recurrent periods of ill health. He was given a beautiful and befitting royal send-off in Torit and in Juba. He is survived by 10 adult children, a sister, 3 nieces and a nephew he raised, and 12 grandchildren among many beloved relatives.

To us who loved him, a cavernous void he left, but also a reassuring sense of pride to have been his beloved. May the almighty father in whom he had great faith, rest his soul in everlasting peace.

Dr Pamela Lomoro is chair of the UK based South Sudan advocacy group, Ghidam. Professionally she is an engineer specialising in the oil and gas sector. She works for a consortium of industry and academic institutions on an engineering research programme. She holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from Leeds University, UK.

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